An extension of the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, places Austen's characters in the midst of a murder mystery. Because Pride and Prejudice has always been one of my favorite books - I've read it three times - I was hesitant to trust a book replicating many of the characters I love. However, rather than distorting the characters to fit modern trends - as does another sequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - James employs Austen's characters aptly, creating a fascinating continuation of the well-respected and beloved novel.
The novel picks up six years after Elizabeth's and Darcy's marriage, and they are settled happily at Darcy's famous Pemberley estate. Unfortunately, the couple's peace does not last long; while the novel still explores the marriage theme, murder becomes the central premise in Death Comes to Pemberley.
Rather than catapult the reader straight into the murder, however, James first brings the reader up to speed with the events of the past six years, developing each character so that the reader can ignore past bias and clearly see each person's possible involvement in the murder. Consequently, when a reckless carriage brings distressing news to Elizabeth's and Darcy's door, the reader already feels immediate interest in the murder mystery to follow.
James also introduces new characters as the reader learns more about the Pemberley estate, which retains its descriptive grandeur but holds secrets which Austen's novel did not reveal. The novel gradually unravels mysteries which lurk in the woods, including a possible haunting and an old tale of suicide.
Although James uses Austen's characters in a setting and genre which are not completely cohesive with Pride and Prejudice, his story does not seem unrealistic or forced - even for Austen fanatics such as myself. Instead, James eases the transition by appropriately adapting each character and allocating time for the reader to properly adjust. As a well-known and respected detective story writer - the 91-year-old writer's diverse career has garnered awards from the Mystery Writers of America and the British Book Awards - James fully capitalizes on her exceptional plotting and clue-planting skills. She avoids detracting from the value of Pride and Prejudice by using the characters in a plausible way and constructing an enjoyable story which is sure to satisfy Austen fans as well as lovers of murder mystery.